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Drugs, Peace, and Development: Rethinking Policy

Gain insights into the relationships between illicit drug economies, peacebuilding, and development in borderland regions.

439 enrolled on this course

Close-up of farmer's hands harvesting poppy

Drugs, Peace, and Development: Rethinking Policy

439 enrolled on this course

  • 5 weeks

  • 2 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Introductory level

Find out more about how to join this course

Explore new ways to tackle drugs, development, and peacebuilding challenges

There is growing awareness that the ‘war on drugs’ has failed and that there is a need for reformed drug policies. But what does this mean in practice?

On this five-week course from SOAS University of London, you’ll delve into the latest debates in global drug policy and the current efforts to integrate drugs, development, and peacebuilding policies.

You’ll learn about the tensions and trade-offs between different policy goals and how these can be navigated to work towards more humane drug policies.

This course draws on world-leading research conducted in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Myanmar – countries that account for more than 90% of the world’s illicit opium production and more than half of the world’s cocaine production. In-depth case studies will take you into the lives of those involved in illicit drug economies.

Discover the complex relationships between illegal drugs, development, and peacebuilding in borderlands

You’ll learn how drugs, development, and peacebuilding intersect with one another in complex and surprising ways, and the consequences for people who depend upon illicit economies at the margins.

Explore the opportunities and challenges for more development-oriented drug policies

You’ll examine creative approaches and new policy directions for responding to illicit drugs. Within this, you’ll identify interventions that can generate more humane and inclusive outcomes for those involved in illicit drug economies.

Learn from experts at SOAS University of London and a global network of researchers

SOAS is a centre of excellence in research and policy approaches to drugs, development, and peacebuilding.

Drawing upon SOAS’s global networks, you’ll learn from a diverse range of experts that have worked on drug issues.


  • Week 1

    Drugs, development and peacebuilding: the trilemma

    • Introduction to the course

      Meet the teaching team, meet each other, and learn about what's ahead.

    • What do you know about drug policies?

      Explore drug policies in drug-producing countries in the global south. Take a quiz to explore your own knowledge of these issues. What surprising findings emerge?

    • Learning about illicit economies in conflict-affected borderlands

      What can we learn about illicit economies and conflicts by researching borderland regions? Introducing three major drug-producing regions of the world.

    • Drugs, development and peacebuilding: a policy trilemma

      Learn about a new framework for exploring drugs, development and peacebuilding, and use it to gain new insights into challenges facing efforts to tackle drugs, achieve inclusive development and promote sustainable peace.

    • Summarising the week

      As you finish the first week of the course, take some time to consider what you have learned so far.

  • Week 2

    Drugs and drug policies

    • Introducing the week

      What are drugs and what policies are used to tackle them? Explore international drug control and zoom into Colombia and Myanmar to learn how policies impact on the drug trade and people who live in drug-producing regions.

    • Understanding drugs

      Explore how drugs are defined and assess the different meanings, moralities, and functions of drugs, across different societies and at different times.

    • Drug control and drug harms

      Examine the emergence of international drug control, and the policies and impacts of the US-led 'War on Drugs' in Colombia. Explore understandings of drug harm and risk environments.

    • Local responses to drugs in Myanmar

      Learn about Pat Jasan, an anti-drugs movement in Myanmar, and about how attempts to address the harms caused by drugs can generate new forms of harm.

    • Drugs policy, development policy and peacebuilding: what are the connections?

      Learn new ways to think about the consequences of drug policies, and how they relate to development and peacebuilding.

    • Summarising the week

      As you finish the second week of the course, take some time to consider what you have learned so far.

  • Week 3

    Peacebuilding, violence and conflict

    • Introducing the week

      War to peace transitions are always challenging, but particularly in regions affected by illicit drug economies. Learn how drugs shape the dynamics of (dis)order, and the implications for peacebuilding policies.

    • Peacebuilding, violence and drugs

      Drug economies are often associated with violence. But are illicit drugs always a fuel for conflict? Learn more about the complex relationships between drugs, violence and peacebuilding.

    • The politics of peace in Colombia and resurging violence

      Colombia's sought-after ‘war-to-peace transition’ was messy and contested from the start. Explore how the peace process played out on the ground and its impact on peoples' lives in the borderlands.

    • Less conflict, more drugs: experiences of ‘peace’ in Myanmar

      Ceasefires in Myanmar’s borderlands reduced armed conflict in the 1990s and 2000s but increased the region’s drug trade. Explore the political, economic and social dynamics of Myanmar’s ceasefires to understand why.

    • Returning to the policy trilemma

      Policy makers often assume that tackling drugs and building peace go hand in hand. Let's explore whether this is the case in practice.

    • Summarising the week

      As you finish the third week of the course, take some time to consider what you have learned so far.

  • Week 4


    • Introducing the week

      Learn about the relationships between illicit drugs and development and study the lessons from alternative development projects in Afghanistan and Colombia.

    • Drugs and sustainable development

      Explore how drug economies interact with processes of development and find out about how 'alternative development' projects have impacted on drugs.

    • Drugs and development in the borderlands

      Learn about the role of borderlands as hubs for illicit economies, but also as centres of rapid change, innovation and development.

    • Case study 1. Afghanistan: drugs, war and development

      Follow drugs from farmers' fields to the border, in southwestern Afghanistan. Explore the interactions between drugs, war and development, as well as efforts to combat drugs through alternative development programmes.

    • Case study 2. Stories from Colombia’s borderlands

      Learn about efforts to address drugs in Colombia through a national drug substitution programme. Explore this programme and the everyday impacts of drug economies in frontier regions through the eyes of social leaders.

    • Rethinking drugs and development

      Can drugs and development goals be reconciled in practice? Examine the tensions and trade offs between these sets of policies when pursued in drugs-affected borderlands.

    • Summarising the week

      As you finish the fourth week of the course, take some time to consider what you have learned so far.

  • Week 5

    Applying trilemma thinking

    • Introducing the week

      Recognising that the ‘War on Drugs’ has failed is one thing, but what replaces it? Learn how policy making might be reformed to address drugs, development and peacebuilding challenges.

    • Revisiting the drugs, development and peacebuilding trilemma

      Significant tensions and trade-offs exist between drugs, development and peacebuilding goals. What does this mean for policy? How can policy makers locate and navigate these tensions?

    • Concluding the course

      Listen to practitioners reflect on the challenges they face reconciling drugs, development and peacebuilding goals. Share your own insights into how what you have learnt from this course. How will it shape your future work?

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Investigate the relationship between illicit drugs, conflict, and development, drawing on evidence from the borderlands of three major drug-producing regions of the world: Afghanistan, Colombia and Myanmar
  • Identify policy linked to the wars on drugs and their different impacts on some of the world’s most marginalised populations
  • Engage with contemporary debates on global drug policy and efforts to integrate drugs, development and peacebuilding policy
  • Assess the tensions and trade-offs surrounding policy goals of a drug-free world, the promotion of peace and sustainable development
  • Apply the concept of a policy ‘trilemma’ to navigate tensions and trade-offs between policy goals, and to devise more humane ways to tackle drugs, development and peacebuilding challenges

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for those involved or interested in the fields of conflict, peace, development, global security, public health, and drug programmes. Activists, researchers, policy makers and individuals working for NGOs will all find it valuable.

Who will you learn with?

I'm Professor of Conflict and Development Studies at SOAS. My research focuses on conflict, illicit economies, post-war transitions and borderlands. I lead the Drugs & (dis)order project.

I work in the Department of Development Studies at SOAS and lead the Myanmar research on the Drugs & (dis)order project. I research conflict and development with a particular focus on Southeast Asia.

I am soon to join the University of Bradford as Lecturer of Peace and Development. Previously, I was a researcher at SOAS on the Drugs & (Dis)order project and a university teacher in Colombia.

Who developed the course?

SOAS University of London

SOAS, University of London is the only Higher Education institution in Europe specialising in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East.

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Ways to learn

Choose the best way to learn for you!

Buy this course

$69/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Subscribe & save

$349.99 for one year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 22 Aug 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

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